Archived Story

And now the news from Haines, Alaska

Published 8:26am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I’ve gone to empty places.

The Earth is a big place.

The Chilkat Mountains present a postcard that is both intimate and immense, and provide a massive backdrop behind the city of Haines, Alaska. Buildings from Fort Seward, a former Army post, give dimension to the mountains. Fort Seward was constructed in 1902 in response to a border dispute between the U.S. and Canada.

Haines looks like a place where angels would land. In Haines, you go up and you go down. When I look at mountains, a quarter to quickly becomes half past. It’s as if I had wondered aloud what the world was like when it was created and Haines showed me.

I talked with a big-coated fellow with eight pounds of beard. As a chatternag (magpie) provided background music, the mountains provided a range of topics. So many things conspire to flatten the imagination. Mountains prevent that.

There is an Alaska Township in Beltrami County in Minnesota. Its population was 197 as of the 2000 census. It’s smaller than the other Alaska that the U.S. purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. The Minnesota Twins cannot find a good shortstop for an annual salary of that amount. That’s about two cents an acre — not for the shortstop, for Alaska. Alaska is the largest state by area and by per capita ice cream consumption. It’s a perfect place for those born facing north. The bedchamber of glaciers, Alaska has 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline, active volcanoes, and according to various sources, three million lakes.

Haines is wet enough that salmon wear rainsuits. Speaking of salmon, there were so many people who informed me that they were smoking salmon, I worried about secondhand salmon smoke.

All I wanted out of one day was to see eagles. There were so many eagles, it was surprising that someone wasn’t selling eagle swatters.

As John Denver sang, “You know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.” Squawking eagles fought over salmon. Photographers proliferated. Cameras chirped and I suffered from lens envy.

People hoped to see the bears that come to see what is bruin. What kinds of bears are seen in Alaska? Brown, black, polar and gummy.

You take your chances when you travel to Alaska in November. Flights go where they aren’t intended. “Soon” not always is. Wiggle room is required on air travel. These things are not all bad. The weather and remoteness make Haines the perfect place to practice patience. Pogo said, “We stand here confronted by insurmountable opportunities.” Patience is one of those opportunities.

Haines is a place where both visitors and residents look around. It not only knocks your socks off, but it rolls them up and puts them in a drawer. A visitor I met in Haines said, “Haines is so far from home. I debated whether I should make this trip. I almost stayed home. That would have been sad.”

Haines is like where you are now. There is endless beauty.

Don’t miss it. You can see the world from where you are.



We know it is Thanksgiving when the gravy boat fleet comes in.

Does Thanksgiving need a song? Adam Sandler sang one that went like this, “Turkey for me. Turkey for you. Let’s eat the turkey in my big brown shoe. Love to eat the turkey at the table. I once saw a movie with Betty Grable. Eat that turkey all night long. Fifty million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Turkey lurkey doo and turkey lurkey dap. I eat that turkey, then I take a nap.” That ditty is dripping in sentiment — or sediment.

Somewhere someone will say grace something like this, “We are thankful that turkeys ripen in November. We are thankful that we never run out of things to say about football and that turkeys get sleepy, too. If we had lots of money, we’d be thankful for our wealth. If we didn’t have colds, we’d be thankful for our health. If we have sore throats, we are thankful we aren’t giraffes. If it weren’t snowing, we’d be thankful for the weather. If it didn’t take 147 miles to walk off a Thanksgiving dinner, we’d be thankful for the food. We are thankful that no one becomes addicted to cold turkey, because how do you quit that? Thank you for pie, after electricity, the second greatest invention ever (tied with cheesecake). We know that food tastes better when we are thankful. Amen.”

I am thankful that Thanksgiving is what it used to be. Happy Thanksgiving.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.